Let’s do a role play! Using simulated workplace evidence for assessment.


The following article has been written by John Price of The VET Gurus and posted here on his behalf.

“Ok class we are going to conduct a role-play!” – and half of the class, or more, shrink down into their seats.

Generally, trainers and assessors are ‘expressives’ by nature, bold, visual, outgoing and a bit extrovert! But what about the students? Not all of them share these characteristics.

What is your preferred learning style? Are you a visual, kinesthetic or auditory learner – how do you learn best? My personal preferences for learning are related to seeing and doing real tasks.

Unfortunately, or in this case fortunately, there are a number of situations where people can’t learn by seeing and doing the real thing and need to experience learning in a simulated environment. Often simulations allow us to experience things that are too big, too small, too expensive, too dangerous, and the list goes on.

There are many examples in common qualifications that require us to:

  • Evacuate a retail store in the event of a fire;
  • Handle difficult people;
  • Dismiss a staff member;
  • Consider privacy and confidentiality.

We know that role-plays can bring these situations alive and bring out the real emotions in people. Psychologists have conducted numerous ‘experiments’ in simulated environments in which acting-out very quickly becomes reality.

We can therefore appreciate that using role-plays as an assessment strategy enables the assessor to make a judgement on how a student will behave in a real situation.

Some of you may have been involved or witnessed my impromptu role-plays to illustrate a specific point or gain a reaction to a situation for the class to analyse and discuss, nevertheless, it requires a great deal of planning for a role-play to be successfully and reliably used in summative assessment.

In order to set up a successful role-play assessment activity you will need consider the following:

  • Select an activity that reflects what actually happens in the workplace.
  • Explain the benefits to students on the value of role-playing these simulated situations.
  • Provide an opportunity for students to practice so that they gain their confidence before they gain their competence.
  • Use positive situations in role-plays before negative ones so that students can experience and appreciate good outcomes.
  • Provide constructive feedback in a timely manner.
  • Script the main role of the person leading the role-play in order to create a benchmark that can be used consistently for all students. This person may be you, a colleague or another student.
  • Develop marking criteria to record your observations of the student and be prepared to give them more than one chance to excel in their role.
  • Provide feedback to encourage them to be involved in future role-plays that demonstrate the real situation in a controlled environment.

Overall, when planned and considered, role-plays provide a valuable opportunity for gathering evidence towards the demonstration of skills for a unit of competency. Keep these tips in mind next time you’re thinking of using a role-play as part of your summative assessment and hopefully you will provide a positive experience for both student and assessor.

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